In the first half of the 20th Century, William George Silver was a well-known Teddingtonian, having been the licensee of the Prince Albert public house in North Lane, and later, the operator of a horse-drawn cab at Teddington Railway Station for a quarter of a century. He was affectionately known as “Old Bill” and was a favourite with American forces based at Bushy Park during WW2, giving many of them their first ever rides in an English horse-drawn cab.
By 1948 he had retired from the cab business and, at age 74, was the night watchman of the Savoy Cinema (now demolished but stood on the site of Harlequin House, next to Elmfield House), a job he had held for nearly a year. On 25th March 1948, he set off for work at 8.30 pm, an hour earlier than usual, as there was a new film he wanted to see before going on duty.
Police Sergeant Borer later told the coroner’s office that the first news he had of anything amiss was on the morning of 26th March, when he was in a “wireless car” and received a message to go to the cinema, where Mr Silver had been found in the main corridor of the circle. He was unconscious, lying on his face, a cloth wrapped around his head and with his hands and ankles tied. A piece of rope ran continuously from his hands to his ankles, He was wearing socks, but no boots. He was taken to West Middlesex Hospital, where he died the same day, Good Friday, without recovering consciousness.
The following day, Norris Andrew Megaw, a fitter’s mate from Camberwell, read of Mr Silver’s death in a newspaper, and immediately went to Camberwell Police Station to confess his crime. In a statement made to the Police, Megaw stated that he had come to England from Ireland in 1943, and married an English girl three years later. He had tried hard to get money together to provide a home, but had lost money gambling on dogs and horses. Some weeks before starting work as a fitter’s mate, he had gone to the Savoy Cinema at Teddington to carry out some ventilation work. Whilst working, he formed the idea of coming back to rob the cinema’s office.
He gave up his job and planned the robbery. He decided that he would have to tie up the night watchman to “have a go” at the safe. He prepared a cosh out of some rubber tubing, a piece of iron and a pair of stockings. Before Easter, he went to the cinema five times, but changed his mind each time and returned home empty handed. Finally on the Thursday, he went to the cinema at night and waited until Mr Silver went to the car park, entered by the front door, went upstairs and hid in the “lettering room” for about three hours.
Afterwards, he made his way to the manager’s office, took out a torch, covered the bottom half of his face with a scarf, put on a trilby and crept up the stairs to where he thought the night watchman would be lying down.
“When I got to the top of the stairs, I could hear someone snoring. I knew it must be the night watchman. I rushed to where he lay, shined the torch on him and as he called out, I hit him on the side of the head with the cosh. He struggled and I hit him again and a third time. He lay quite still.”
Megaw then tied his arms behind his back and then, to his ankles, drawing his feet towards his hands. He put a towelling gag and a blindfold in place and carried Mr Silver up to the circle and left him there. Megaw smoked three cigarettes, went to the manager’s office and tried unsuccessfully to open the safe. He visited Mr Silver and found him “snoring and seemingly alright.” He put on Mr Silver’s boots and left the cinema about 6.00 am. His own shoes and the cosh he left in the “lettering room.”
Megaw told Inspector Splash of the Camberwell Police , “Yes, I killed him but I never meant to. I want you to know how it happened. You will find Mr Silver’s boots at my lodgings. I saw in the paper that he was dead, and when I went to put on his boots, I just couldn’t. I came straight here.”
At the inquest the pathologist, Dr R D Teare, said that the cause of Mr Silver’s death was laceration of the brain due to a fractured skull.
On 2nd April, William Silver’s body was conveyed from the mortuary on a horse-drawn hearse to Teddington Cemetery, where he was buried. Crowds stood in sympathy near his home at 30 North Lane and at the cemetery. The hearse was covered with wreaths and flowers from the friends and former work-mates of one of the most popular men of the district. A short funeral was conducted by Rev. R Wallace, with all the surviving family in attendance.
Megaw went to the Old Bailey, where he pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to hang. Mr Silver’s grandson attended the trial and still remembers the solemnity of the judge, Mr Justice Morris, as he put on the black cap to pronounce sentence. However, such was Megaw’s contrition that he received a royal pardon and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was sent to Wakefield Prison and I believe he died there.
As a footnote, it is worth noting that after the trial, Mr Silver’s grandson joined the Police Force and received much of his early instruction from Sgt Borer, who became a close friend.
Ken Howe is a local historian and author of several books.
020 8943 1513